Arcangelo the morning after his impressive score in the Test of the Champion (Susie Raisher)
NYRA Press Office
ELMONT, N.Y.— Trainer Jena Antonucci went to work as usual on Sunday morning, sending out a trainee to breeze a little past 8 a.m. at Belmont Park. The only difference in her morning routine was a sudden rush of reporters and photographers that gathered around a blanket of white carnations, clamoring to get a view of racing’s newest millionaire Arcangelo, the impressive winner of Saturday’s Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets.
Antonucci, who won her first Grade 1 and became the first woman to train a winner of a Triple Crown event, said she is still processing the scale of the accomplishment 12 hours later.
“Everything is still a little bit numb on some levels, and I’m just trying to sort everything out,” Antonucci said. “I’m just grateful and appreciative of what he did for us yesterday and it’s pretty cool.”
Arcangelo, a grey son of Arrogate owned by Blue Rose Farm, added his name to the storied list of Belmont Stakes winners with an inside trip under Hall of Famer Javier Castellano, who won his first Belmont and claimed victory in two of the three jewels of the Triple Crown this year after winning his first Grade 1 Kentucky Derby aboard Mage.
The next morning, Arcangelo napped on and off in his stall and awoke to nicker excitedly at other horses walking the shed row. Antonucci said all is well with the talented ridgling after his 1 1/2-length triumph.
“He’s taking a nap and that’s normal for him,” said Antonucci. “He’s a hard sleeper.”
Arcangelo’s team is no stranger to being patient, and will continue that attitude going forward as a potential next start is planned. Antonucci said the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers on August 26 at Saratoga Race Course could be included in the discussions, but stressed that she has made no firm plans yet.
“There is zero idea. We know what the calendar is and what’s where, so we’ll let him come out of this and tell us,” Antonucci said. “[The Travers] is on our radar, but the stakes schedule is there and if it’s seven weeks until we run or 11 weeks until we run, we’ll just back into it.”
A humble Antonucci said she is grateful that the timing of the Belmont unfolded in her favor as the late-blooming Arcangelo came into his own at the perfect time to land the historic victory.
“I’m glad it worked out in the calendar,” said Antonucci, with a laugh. “I haven’t been able to organize what it means yet. It’s special and if it gives other people a little more hope or a push, then that’s amazing.”
The 155th running of the “Test of the Champion” marked the 50-year anniversary of Secretariat’s electrifying 31-length Belmont triumph. One of the symbols used to honor “Big Red” this year was the addition of blue roses to the traditional blanket of white carnations awarded to the winner, reminiscent of the famous blue and white checkerboard silks of Secretariat’s owner, Meadow Stable.
Antonucci noted the parallels between Arcangelo and Secretariat, whose owner Penny Chenery was an outspoken advocate for the involvement of women in the sport.
“There were so many odd, little nuances throughout the week that felt like we were where we were supposed to be,” said Antonucci. “I was not being cocky about it, but there was just too much about it that said it was his space and time to do it. Blue roses for Secretariat, like the name of the owner, we drew post 3 with the blue saddle towel. He wears silks with blue. And 50 years since Secretariat and all that Mrs. Chenery brought to this game. If you believe in any of that kind of stuff, you’ve got to lean into it. It gives you this big hug to be able to go and do it. Those are the things I’ve enjoyed this week.”
The win was especially sentimental for Castellano, who has lived in nearby Garden City for over 20 years and has ridden in the Empire State for just as long. The Venezuela native had finished second in the Belmont Stakes on three occasions – all by narrow margins, including a three-quarter length loss aboard Stay Thirsty to Ruler On Ice in 2011; a head defeat to Tonalist in 2014 when piloting 28-1 shot Commissioner; and a nose defeat to Creator in 2016 aboard Destin.
The 45-year-old veteran rider, a dual Grade 1 Preakness winner, said completing a personal Triple Crown this year has been a defining moment in his Hall of Fame career.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Castellano. “I’m blessed and thankful to win two Triple Crown races in one year. Everyone wants the Kentucky Derby and chases it, but I [feel that way] especially about the Belmont. This is the big one for us. This is the race my kids are asked about – ‘your dad is a jockey, has he won the Belmont?’ I’m just so happy for my family and they can go around town and say their dad won the Belmont Stakes. You feel good when people recognize your hard work. Thank God I’ve been successful. I’m very happy. Jena and the team did such a good job with this horse.”
Like his Belmont victory, Arcangelo’s trip to Grade 1 glory was attained with patient, even-headed handling, allowing him to take the time he needed to grow beyond the rangy yearling he was when purchased for $35,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale.
“There are some things that are much bigger than you are, and you can’t chase those things,” said Antonucci. “You’ve got to sit in the pocket, let things unfold and let things happen. I think when you do that, it makes it that much more amazing.”
With Arcangelo’s dam being the Tapit mare Modeling, a $2.85 million 2-year-old herself, his frugal purchase price was made even more baffling by the fact that his third dam, Better Than Honour, produced two Belmont Stakes winners in Jazil  and Rags to Riches .
Jon Ebbert, owner of Blue Rose Farm, said Arcangelo was an unexpected acquisition.
“I was actually looking to buy a horse for a pinhook, but I had to have him and I bought him even though I really wasn’t looking for him,” said Ebbert. “I knew he was going to take time and be a project and was hoping he’d grow the right way. He came into his own a little quicker than I expected. It’s been amazing. I thought he needed more time, but he told us differently.”
Ebbert explained Arcangelo is the perfect horse to bear his stable name, which is derived from the idea that campaigning horses like him is like catching lightning in a bottle.
“I needed a name, and I was thinking of roses for the Kentucky Derby, which is every owner’s dream. A blue rose is impossible, it doesn’t happen in nature,” explained Ebbert, who fell in love with horse racing as a child attending the Kentucky Derby. “So, it symbolizes trying to achieve the impossible. It was just meant to be.”